Restaurants Make More Money By Cramming Us Onto Barstools

The Wall Street Journal's lifestyle coverage has a habit of "discovering" commonplace objects or experiences and then analyzing them to within an inch of their lives. (See: "Shorts: A Thing.") But—credit where it's due—the paper has an interesting report today on the rise of barstools at high-end restaurants.

The WSJ finds restaurants, even the fancy ones, are increasingly ditching standard tables and chairs for stools, high-top tables, and bar seating. OpenTable even recently introduced a feature that allows customers to book barstools that had traditionally been filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Some restaurants tell the WSJ they can make 50 percent more profit on a barstool than a traditional table because they take up less space and offer quicker customer turnover. (Reservation website Resy finds customers will spend an average of 85 minutes on a meal at the bar versus 105 minutes at a traditional table.)

Of course, not everyone likes barstools, especially those without backs. To summarize the critics quoted in the piece: "I am paying good money for this dinner and I would to not have to balance like a circus seal, thanks."

Restaurants, too, find that despite their advantages, bar stool seating can have drawbacks, too. At New York City's Lil' Gem, chef-owner Melissa O'Donnell tells the WSJ that bar seating can encourage diners to order dishes one at a time, leading them to fill up on appetizers, and therefor generate lower check amounts. (Lil' Gem now asks customers to place their orders all at once.)

Personally, I'm a fan of open-kitchen/bar seating, especially if I'm eating alone or don't plan to order a full meal. I like the Benihana-esque entertainment of an open kitchen or a busy bar, where I can watch the staff as I snack on some small plates and a glass of wine. But I want bar seating to be a choice, especially at a nice restaurant. If I'm celebrating an anniversary or trying to catch up with a friend I haven't seen in a while, I probably don't want to be shoehorned next to strangers and rushed through my meal in an hour. Oh, and if a restaurant is going to seat me at the bar, there best be ample coat/purse hooks, foot rails, and ideally, tiny backs.